NPR offering Soros money for political coverage; will MPR take it?

Last week, George Soros — “the billionaire financier who was an energetic Democratic donor in the last several election cycles,” according to the New York Times — announced he was sitting out the 2010 race because “I don’t believe in standing in the way of [a Republican] avalanche.”

Today, National Public Radio announced a $1.8 million grant from Soros’s Open Society Foundations for an “Impact of Government” initiative that will eventually “add editorial resources and reporters to NPR member stations in all 50 states.”

It’s another exciting newsroom-enhancing infusion for public radio on the heels of MPR honcho Bill Kling’s $100 million plan to hire 300 journalists spread over four test markets.

But at the very least, Soros’s involvement raises conflict-of-interest questions. Regular readers of MinnPost comments know the Pavlovian response Soros inspires from at least one conservative, and right-wing icon Glenn Beck has declared Soros “the head of the snake.” (You can imagine the consternation from the left if billionaire Tea Party funder David Koch was giving the grant.)

According to the press release, Soros money will fund the “year-long pilot phase with station partners in eight states, allowing NPR to staff a new team of editors and data-analysts to run the project.” Those stations have not been selected. Will MPR be signing up?

“Too soon to tell, but we’ll take a close look at it,” MPR News managing director Chris Worthington says.

As I’ve written about our own shop, donor entanglements — like advertiser entanglements — are fair game, especially in a profession that writes about political conflicts of interest all the time.

But when it comes to quid pro quos, NPR and MPR honchos would certainly assert, as MinnPost boss Joel Kramer declared this summer, that “donors buy no influence, period.” Although MPR’s donor rolls are stuffed with politically active people, the news network has built a 40-year reputation as an honest political broker among all but the hardest-core partisans. For now, the concerns are only theoretical, but hopefully MPR will be fully transparent if it accepts the Soros funds.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by chuck holtman on 10/18/2010 - 01:13 pm.

    David, I’m surprised at you. First, a little Soros-Koch false equivalence. One, a rich quasi-libertarian who funds establishment Democrats because they are slightly less damaging to freedom and openness than the Republicans; the other, a rich guy who’s made billions in the nation’s most politically, socially and environmentally retrograde sector (energy) and funds the nation’s most retrograde political forces, in secret if possible, to ensure the money keeps flowing into his pockets. What’s next, the symmetry of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore? Second, MPR’s “reputation as an honest political broker among all but the hardest-core partisans”? Any critical listener of NPR/MPR is aware that public radio is captured by establishment politics thru and thru. Fox and NPR/MPR are aimed at entirely different audiences, but both play their roles in a well-diversified propaganda system intended to keep citizens from happening on any critical realizations about why things are as they are and how they could be different. If you don’t believe me, just ask Cokie Roberts.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/18/2010 - 01:17 pm.

    Considering that MPR takes corporate sponsorships from Greg Steinhafel’s Target Corporation, taking money from George Soros should raise no questions whatsoever.

    Of course we could always fund public broadcasting in ways that mean corporate sponsorships and the like are no longer needed, but then we’d have a truly independent media voice in the US and the State of Minnesota which would run counter to the reasons our Republican friends massively cut the funding for public broadcasting and the federal and state levels in the first place.

    The Rebs hoped that public broadcasting at all levels would turn to wealthy individual and corporate contributors (which they have) and then be (unconsciously?) forced in their coverage to remember which side their bread is buttered on (which they have done).

    But putting George Soros into the mix would give big money influence to the other side of every issue, so, of course, the Republican Propaganda Ministry (weasel news) is going to scream bloody murder and the MSM will let them call the tune and soon dance the same dance (without ever considering doing an exploration of where contributions to public broadcasting already come from).

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/18/2010 - 01:18 pm.

    This is, I think, an excellent time to revisit the golden MinnPost archives.

    Waaay back on November 10, 2008, Molly Priesmeyer, an employee of (Soros funded) Minnesota Independent, had this to say about being a cog in the Soros wheel:

    “I feel like we were hired to be nothing more than shills for their platform under the guise of a mission focused on creating journalism that was “independent” and for the “common good.” If I had been told I was a shill for the Democrats, I never would’ve written for the site.”


    “Donors buy no influence, period.”

    You should put that on bumper stickers and tee shirts, Dave…sell ’em at MinnRoast.

  4. Submitted by Jo Marsicano on 10/21/2010 - 08:59 am.

    I’m an unapologetic leftie so you know exactly where I’m coming from here:

    There is a fundamental and profound difference between the agendas of the “left” and the “right.” The right seizes the collective wealth and funnels it into the hands of a few elite. The left seeks the just distribution of the collective wealth to everyone who created it -all of us. (That’s why corporate democrats have to go — they act like the right when claiming to be left.)

    Taking money from a George Soros foundation to report on the “impact of government” is a fair response to the “anti government” rants that we’ve had to swallow for 3 decades now. The mainstream media, MPR and NPR included, have swallowed the Kool Aid by “reporting” (and repeating again and again) on anti-government rhetoric without a fair response from the other side.

    Spineless democrats have had no response to this rant. NONE. And Obama is too conciliatory to satisfy the need for a full-throttled response. Perhaps it’s incumbant upon foundations like Soros’ to investigate and report on the broader truth — that government does have an impact, an important impact, on all of our lives.

    In a media climate in which we are given anti-intellectual rants from ignorant or hostile political candidates (Christine O’Donnell, Sarah Palin, Tom Emmer, Michele Bachmann) — we need this kind of reporting.

    I hope MPR takes the money. I’m glad they’re considering it. This kind of reporting would be a welcome relief from the one-sided, right-wing garbage we’ve had to listen to for the past 30 years.

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